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Rilski Ready To Punch Above Height

11 October 2013
EUROCHALLENGE
Rosen Barchovski at the helm of Bulgaria at EuroBasket 2011
Rosen Barchovski, seen here at the helm of Bulgaria at EuroBasket 2011, has been at the reigns of EuroChallenge newcomers Rilski Sportist Samokov

Pitted against EuroChallenge old hands Szolnoki Olaj of Hungary and Tsmoki Minsk of Belarus in Regular Season Group H, is unheralded Bulgarian club Rilski Sportist Samokov.

It's true that BC Tirgu Mures, the fourth team in the group, will also participate in a European competition for the first time in their history when the EuroChallenge tips off on 5 November.

The Romanian side however finished top of the standings in the Regular Season of their domestic LNB League last year and came within a whiff of winning the title but fell 4-2 to defending champions CSU Ploiesti in the play-off finals.

The team from Samokov on the other hand finished fourth in the Bulgarian NBL standings last season, have never challenged for the domestic title and their only silverware is the title of the regional Balkan League, in 2009.

Barring a last-minute addition to their roster, the Bulgarians will also be one of the smallest in size teams in this year's EuroChallenge, with only three players in the side measuring above two metres and their tallest player, 24-year-old Stanislav Vaklinov, standing at 2.07m of height.

Rilski are also a youthful team, with former Bulgarian international Zlatin Georgiev one of the few players on their roster with European experience.

Yet they can count on some masterful guidance from the bench in the shape of Rosen Barchovski, the long-time head coach of the Bulgarian national team, who was handed the reins of the Samokov club in 2010.

"[The EuroChallenge] will be a strong tournament," Barchovski, who is not losing sight of the progress of his team's opponents in Group H, said on Thursday.

"Minsk defeated VEF Riga (in the VTB United league) and Szolnoki beat MZT Skopje (in the Adriatic League).

"We are not looking for excuses, we assume the risk, we will do everything possible to go ahead, right now we are prepared at 70-80%."

"Our aim is to finish at least in third place in Bulgaria, we don't want anything less.

"In Europe, whatever happens will be welcome, although it will be very difficult."

Unlike their EuroChallenge opponents, Rilski are yet to embark on their domestic campaign as the Bulgarian NBL only tips off on 19 October.

Yet they have given fair warning during their pre-season that you can underestimate them at your own peril, with the latest proof coming on Thursday night.

In a strong warm-up test, they travelled to Bulgarian capital Sofia and edged out reigning champions Lukoil Academic 85-83, with point guard Corin Henry scoring the game-winner almost at the final buzzer.

Asides from being the Bulgarian champions, Academic are a side that competed in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague qualifiers last week and will play in the Eurocup this season.

Henry and forward Auston Calhoun led Rilski with 19 points each, the latter also grabbing 11 rebounds to complete a double-double display.

"The issue is not so much that we beat the champion, the game could have gone either way and ultimately, it is not so important to beat them now, as it will be later, in the official season," Barchovski said.

"But we are pleased with the victory, each win we earn is good.

"We have chosen the new players on the team for the long term, they are very high quality players, talented as well as athletic.

"Some of them are not experienced, like our centers, but they will learn.

"I am aware that it will take a long time until we build this team.

"There will be good times and there will be bad times ahead."

Rilski underwent a radical overhaul of their roster in the summer, and they will cross paths with one of the many players who departed the team on 13 November, in only their second EuroChallenge game.

Bulgarian international point guard Branko Mirkovic has joined Minsk and was a starter in his new team's 89-83 win over Riga in their VTB league opener last Tuesday, scoring 11 points.

Coach Barchovski had to build this season's roster almost from scratch.

"When selecting players, the first thing to see is what kind of people they are," he explained about his new recruits.

"If they are decent, if they can work with the coaches and the staff, and only then to see how high and how strong [they are].

"This is what we have done for a lot of time and I think that for another year it will bring us good results."

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